Finalizing our lease agreement became more complicated by the Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival), as the landlords and our relocation agents were four of the 3+ million people who left Shanghai to return home, or go somewhere warm. To sneak into the apartment before CNY, I found myself in our new digs with a fanny pack full of cash, listening to the female half of the husband/wife landlord team arguing petulantly about the lease agreement our relocation agents had brokered with her husband.
I’m growing fond of the Chinese method of bargaining: a cold stare, disapproving expression, dark sunglasses and my intimidating facial hair have saved us hundreds of Yuan, even over email. None of my bargaining prowess prepared me for the wrath of our new landlord.
She is quite a trip, decked out in Louis Vuitton and silver sparkle Gucci high top sneakers of indeterminate authenticity, practically growling at you through fierce eyes while jabbering on her mobile phone. We had apparently negotiated with the husband and the husband’s friend, and the wife was not at all happy with what my glowering and disapproval had yielded (we got the rent down 1500 rmb, about $220). Thus she attempted to renegotiate on the spot.
When our relocation agents grew frustrated, she attempted to negotiate directly with me, in Chinese, then Italian. I speak very little Italian, so I threw my broken Italian, some German and a whole lot of Spanish at her just to see what would happen. A few heated and noisy Spanish/Italian conversations later, (sprinkled with loud Mandarin from my representatives) we all realized that I should shut up and she should stop arguing, because we weren’t changing a damn thing. Things started getting signed, and I made it rain with 100 rmb notes. Now I understand, Pacman. Now I understand.
We scampered to Ikea later that night to grab some bedding. We were on a mission to spare our spines from another night on the concrete slab masquerading as a mattress at our serviced apartment. The amount to which Ikea stores do not change from country to country boggles my mind, and the trip left me in a state of Scandinavian shell shock that, in Portland, I had managed to numb myself too through small recreational doses of medicinal herbs or several pre-game cocktails.
We had our fair share of fun getting back to the serviced apartment in a taxi piloted by a senile seeming old man, and recruiting the front desk staff to help us take a taxi full of ikea+some luggage to our new place. We didn’t yet have the exact address of our new digs, so I got a quick lesson in Mandarin directional words, so I could instruct the cabbie. The distance between old apartment and new apartment is so short (less than a quorter mile the long way, 500 feet as the frisbee flies) that the new cabbie snorted indisgust and rolled his eyes, muttering the whole way. Nothing beats catching your cabbie shooting the death stare at you through the rear view mirror, but all was forgiven when I paid him double the required fare.
The next morning we returned to the serviced apartment to pack up our belongings and shower, for our new place had no hot water. During checkout it became apparent to both of us that we needed a larger than standard taxi, so we requested the front desk call us a van. Our bellhop, ‘Richard,’ a kind-faced kid of no more than 19, suggested that he walk the cart of our stuff over to our new place. Worse ideas have been patented, so Richard and I set off down an alley with a shiny brass bellman’s cart full of our luggage, led by Girlie, who was carrying a carnivorous pitcher plant.
The Alley makes a hard right at an apartment complex and pushes toward a major street, but I convinced Richard we should take a shortcut through the complex–our new apartment was just on the other side of it. Richard didn’t quite get my meaning, and convinced the guard that I was a new tenant. I shouted some English at the guard and he let us in. We pushed our cart into the complex and I tugged the cart on a beeline for the other exit. I pointed our apartment building out to Richard when it came in view, and he started giggling. “Next time I need to cut through, I’ll just yell at the guard in Japanese!” he said.
We Motley Crü traversed the final street and pulled the cart into our complex. At that moment, at least, we were the heat and noise for the neighborhood. Aged men in Mao tuxedos (a term of endearment, I swear) looked at us with the same wide-eyed open-mouth stares and giggles that their grandchildren did. As awkward as we may have looked, we got our bags into the new apartment, tipped Richard heftily, and collapsed on the dusty floor of our new digs.
Up Next: Happy Year of the Ox! Now DUCK!